All of a sudden it was raining cats and dogs. Neil Atkinson visits the home of odd English phrases and the man behind so many of them
Okay, it may be a legend. It may be something of an old wives’ tale. But it seemed rather ironic in the middle of a very wet day that we are standing in a stunning Tudor thatched house and learning of the origin of ‘It’s raining cats and dogs’.
The story goes that families in the Tudor times would send terriers up on to the thatched roofs to catch the rats that lived there but they lost their footing in the heavy rain and would fall from the roof.
It sounds so plausible as we take a tour of Anne Hathaway’s home, the picturesque cottage in which she lived with her parents before she fell pregnant to her toyboy lover William Shakespeare, and married him to move into the centre of Stratford-upon-Avon.
It’s our first visit to the home of the Bard and despite some rain, it’s a fascinating experience.
Stratford is steeped in history and although much of it is to do with Shakespeare there’s an awful lot else to attract tourists, with historic houses, museums and countryside attractions on the doorstep.
Within a few miles are the quaint villages of the northern Cotswolds and the mighty Warwick Castle.
But what draws hundreds of thousands of tourists, especially from the US and Japan, is Shakespeare.
And it’s great to follow in his footsteps.
We get to tour his birthplace in Henley Street, see the farm where his mother Mary Arden was brought up, and to visit his grave deep beneath the town’s Holy Trinity Church.
You also get to learn of the man’s influence on England – and on English.
Shakespeare is responsible for more than a thousand words that are now in everyday use. Among them scores of phrases we take for granted.
Phrases like ‘a foregone conclusion’, ‘all of a sudden’, ‘good riddance’ and ‘wear your heart on your sleeve’ are all down to Shakespeare.
Many of the buildings are now owned and lovingly restored and maintained by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust which has brought modern technology to sit comfortably alongside medieval qualities to delight and inform the throngs of visitors.
A big plus is that most of the buildings are within the small centre of Stratford and within easy walking distance.
In fact, the whole of the centre can be explored comfortably within a few hours – without the need to resort to the car.
The town is clean and welcoming, now dominated by the tower of the theatre that is home to the Royal Shakespeare Company. We joined hundreds of others for a performance of the Bard’s Hamlet but also marvelled at the stunning architecture.
Stratford, of course, sits astride the River Avon where you can hop aboard the various leisure cruisers sailing up and down. But it is also a working river, with rowing clubs and narrowboats nestling alongside the colourful waterfowl.
A stroll along the river paths is enjoyable, especially if you get the weather for it.
Our base for the short break was at the Menzies Welcombe Hotel, just five minutes drive from the town centre and boasting its own golf course, luxury spa and grounds for bracing walks.
The hotel is the former home of the boss of the Flowers brewery and his company’s wares are available at many of the historic pubs dotted through the area. Eating and drinking are relatively inexpensive, as is the shopping at the popular Friday market in Rother Street.
And when you sip a pint of the ale in a pub like The Garrick, it’s easy to imagine a young wordsmith called William sitting entertaining his friends in a corner of the bar.
Neil Atkinson stayed as a guest of the Menzies Welcombe Hotel, Warwick Road, Straftord-upon-Avon.
Rooms are from £108. Go to www.menzieshotels.co.uk or call 01789 295252.
For tourist information visit www.visitstratforduponavon.co.uk or call the Visitor Centre on 01789 264293.